Sunday, January 31, 2010

Peel Slowly and See

As is my wont, yesterday when I was bored I played a game of Twister, solo. Oh what fun. What wasn't so fun was when, after one particulary vigorous spin, I found myself locked into a sitting swami position. I took the opportunity of such a paralyzed state to contemplate the idea of perfection. Lo and behold, after several fleeting and eventually unsatisfying images of Bo Derek, Bob Dylan's hair circa 1966, and the word aardvark flitted through my consciousness, I fixated on banana; I thus achieved the nirvana of discovering earthly perfection. Only then was I able to rather painfully wrench myself back to mobility.

Now I'm not just talking about the delicious pleasures that eating a banana bring, though certainly that is an inextricable part of the entire "banana = perfection" equation. I'm talking the totality of banana: perfection personified, so to speak. Yes, biting into a juicy orange in the dead of winter, or grabbing a handful of raspberries at a summer picnic, or slithering in a little kiwi slice at a swanky wine and cheese all have their profound merits, but a banana needs no context; wherever and whenever, consuming one always satisifies.

And think of all the various edible pleasures bananas, um, foster: on top of cereal, dried out, cream pies, puddings, fried (oh my God, fried bananas), frozen. And no offense to Hot Fudge Sundaes, but really, a Banana Split is the Rolls Royce of ice cream dishes. Hell, even that fake "banana flavoring," which ends up in everything, doesn't taste anything like bananas to me, but it still tastes great; name anything else whose pale imitators are pretty damn good, in and of themselves. Look, I'm no Rachel Ray (kudos, God), so I don't know even a tenth of the ways bananas can be used culinarily, but what I do know makes bananas unassailable. But it goes far beyond taste.

The banana's design is artistic and practical perfection. Peeling an orange can be a pain, but is there an easier, more pleasurable food preparation act than peeling a banana? The satisfying strength test of the initial crack at the top, then the sensual strip tease of peeling--machismo and sultry sexiness all in one. Think how long it's taken the packaging industry to design user friendly zip locks. The packaging of the banana has been perfect since its inception. And inside: No seeds or pits or gnarly cores to deal with, just total mushy goodness. And with the time-honored and always hilarious slipping on a banana peel gag, there's no waste: just toss the peel aside and wait for the hijinks. To me there's no better anticipatory experience in all of film than the tossed banana peel.

Now some uptight people may claim that the banana is just too phallic for them. To them I say, pshaw. The banana is a mite phallic, yes, but with its Saarinen-like sleek curve it's also quite feminine: it is the essential, unified, ying-yang of the plant kingdom: perfection.

Bananas are hip, too. The music is great, but to me what seals the deal for making The Velvet Underground and Nico the coolest, most undeniable album in history is Andy Warhol's totemic banana cover, Peel Slowly and See indeed. Then, of course, there was the great Sixties myth (was it just a myth, Rev. Jim?) that smoking banana peels led to a psychedelic experience like no other ("electrical banana"). Did you know some folks think the supposedly always-been-there (and so-much-more-poetic-and-fitting phrase than "losing one's marbles") "going bananas" originated with this banana peel smoking myth? Hard to believe, but the conundrum of the phrase's origins has even the redoubtable folks at the OED desperate.

The word (from the Spanish and Portuguese) itself is perfection. Like some mystical chant, it rolls off the tongue and never wants to stop. Just sitting there on the page or screen it looks so cool, so fun, so perfect, like a toy wooden train. A banana wouldn't quite be perfect if it were named the kumquat, right? I bet if they did a study with pre-literate babies and just tested their reactions to the look of various words, all the cool babies would gravitate to banana (my money's on the nerdy ones forming a cult around the word galoshes).

And besides, it's yellow. Being colorblind, I've always had an affection for good old unambiguous yellow.

The banana, ladies and gentlemen, perfection. Indulge.

Spike Jones and The City Slickers-Yes! We Have No Bananas

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Losing Marbles

No, to be honest.

Let me explain. Having recently played (and won, mind you, but that's not important, impressive) a game of Trivial Pursuit with a group of people I am at least ten (and even twenty) years older than, I can tell you that nothing this side of aching and paining your way to get out of bed at four in the morning to pee will make you feel older. Cries of "how did you know that?" accompanied by looks of awe (or were they disdain? pity, even? my eyes are getting bad) abounded as I answered rather simple questions about things that occurred well within my conscious lifetime, if not anybody else's.

Now you might think I've lost my marbles because I was playing a board game with twentysomethings (who are probably too young to remember the TV show thirtysomething--a "glitzy" show, as I recall a priest calling it, mid-sermon!), but if you do, and if you are under the age of 80, I challenge you to tell me the first thing about the game of marbles. Considering this

is perhaps the latest known picture of anybody playing marbles (oh I pray that I receive venomous hate mail from the Studebaker-driving, camphor oil-swilling, dungaree-wearing masses who keep the playing of marbles alive like so many Civil War re-enactors--then I'll really know my blog has reached the crannies of the internet [come to think of it, don't you gotta believe that most Civil War re-enactors probably play marbles in their less bellicose moments?]), I think it's time to consider and summarily lose the term (and all its variants) "losing one's marbles."

Now if you can make a case for me that the metaphor has now become the literal, in other words, that we use the term marbles for sanity outside of the "lost one's" usage, then I'll say okay, the phrase stays. But I never hear anyone saying, "that guy's got all his marbles; I'll trust him with my daughter," so I'm not buying it. Simply put, marbles are archaic; ergo, the phrase is, so let's ditch it for something more up-to-date, something "gliztier."

Some suggestions:

  • his Segway's got a flat
  • he's playing with a broken joystick
  • his cellphone's on permanent vibrate
  • his SUV done rolled over one time too many
  • his Depends are saturated
  • he's still looking for the "You Are Here" sign in the marble museum
  • he's got nothing but Michael Bolton on his iPod
  • he's a vegan at a drive-thru window
  • he's waiting for chewable Viagra
  • he's voting for Palin
There you have it: ten new phrases to go crazy over. And if you still have marbles to lose, go here.

Doug Sahm-Crazy, Crazy Baby

Friday, January 29, 2010

Over. And Done With

It seems like the fine folks who make Cottonelle toilet paper are a little late to the party. About six years late, to be more precise, to the party that I hosted and closed with a definitive bang. You see, back on December 7, 2003, the now-defunct Cleveland Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine published an essay I wrote extolling the absolute correctness of the top-down method of toilet paper deployment and debunking unequivocally the from-the-bottom method. Now the Cottonelle people are promoting a worldwide debate on the subject, using the less exact terms "over" and "under." An apt subject for debate, but really, Cottonelle, I settled this tissue issue years ago; you might as well have a debate about VHS and Beta. Nevertheless, I feed the need to be heard from again on this crucial subject, so here is my original essay.

I'm a top-down (TD) guy. Have been for years, obsessively so. I can tolerate from-the-bottom (FTB) people, but I put them in the category of the Eternally Suspicious, along with self-professed vampires and Art Modell apologists.

It's such a quick and foolproof litmus test, not only of someone's personality but of his or her character, soul even. Just head into a person's bathroom and look at the toilet paper roll: If the toilet paper unspools from the top down, you know the person is all right; from the bottom up, well, be cautious.

For purely practical reasons, there is no choice. TD is much more efficient and correct. Gravity is dependable, so why not utilize it? TD allows for one easy revolution of the roll to find the end. The unspooling is natural. FTB, especially if your roll is thick-ply, often results in frustrating spins, spins and more spins to find that elusive free end. Dawdling time is over when you make the move for the paper; to waste additional time trying to remove some paper from the roll is an insult to one's intelligence.

Undoubtedly, the paper that faces you coming off a TD roll is the money side, the proper side. What comes at you FTB, though it might seem appropriate, is the backside. Whether you're an obsessive folder of the TP or a reckless clumper, FTB people still end up with the side that unspools. How silly to use the wrong side for your business. It's like using the other side of sandpaper to sand, the other side of the knife to cut, the other side of the cigarette to smoke.

But TP unspooling is more than just a practical matter, more than just a conundrum for Heloise; it encompasses Emily Post and moves well beyond into Nietzschean, heaven or hell territory, and further into the existential milieu of plain or peanut--are you cool or uncool, is the ultimate question.

Now you might think the unnatural, against-the-grain FTB people are the cool ones in their iconclastic regard for TP, but, really, is there anything sadder than a nonconformist who nonconforms when it comes to silly things? I mean, let's face it, as valuable as it is, TP is a pretty silly thing. People who willfully put their TP on the springy spindle the wrong way are like those people who actually have a preference for a particular brand of bottled water. Nice try, would-be rebels.

TD people are comfortable in their identity, comfortable with nature, comfortable with the idea of convenience. Cool is nothing if not comfortable. FTB people are ornery, combative and let's-turn-this-molehill-into-a-mountain types.

Just as I enjoy parking really close to those people who willfully take up two parking spaces to protect their oh-so-precious vehicles, I love righting the wrongs of misguided TP spoolers. Be it a public restroom or a close friend's private throne room, I always take the opportunity of a visit to fix a FTB roll. It ain't exactly superhero work, but I firmly believe it's the little acts of kindness that truly make this world a better place. I'm just trying to do my part.

In the interest of journalistic integrity, however, I recently made the effort to put the shoe on the other foot. I actually put a recent roll of TP on FTB. I felt like Rush Limbaugh at a single-mothers consciousness-raising potluck vegan dinner: totally out of sorts.

There was no avant-garde thrill of breaking the social compact. There was no Emersonian pride in being an anti-hobgoblin. And there certainly was no convenience. Instead of the end of the roll always being right there like a trusty dog, I had to search for it, reaching up and behind the fat roll like a clumsy pickpocket. I admit there was a bit of flourish to ripping the paper off FTB, one absent in TD, but for some reason, I kept dropping the paper. Any kind of swashbuckling exuberance is lost when you have to pick up TP from the floor, believe me. End of experiment.

Toilet paper was made to unspool from the top down. It's that simple. And now that I have solved that mystery, I am tackling more complicated matters, such as which end of the Q-Tip to use first. There is a difference, you know.

The Yardbirds-Over Under Sideways Down

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ichabod's iPod, Part 2: Holden Caulfield's Goddam Hits

Although he's been gone a long time, J.D. Salinger is now dead. I thank him for the hours and hours and days of pleasure I had reading and teaching The Catcher in the Rye. It only seems fitting,then, that now (when the old man can't sue me) I reveal to you the ten most-played songs on Holden Caulfield's iPod.

Brother John-The Wild Tchoupitoulas: For his beloved, dead little brother, Allie.

The Little Girl I Once Knew-The Beach Boys: For Jane Gallagher, who kept her kings in the back row, dropped a big tear on the checker board, and, God forbid, went on a date with Stradlater.

Don't Hurt My Little Sister-The Beach Boys: For Phoebe.

Walk Up The Street-The Modern Lovers: A rather autobiographical song for our peripatetic anti-hero who truly has "no place let to go."

I Don't Wanna Grow Up-Tom Waits: "...if you want to know the truth."

Crazy-Pylon: "You're funny and you don't even try."

My Old School-Steely Dan: Well, several, but who's counting?

Crepuscule With Nellie-Thelonious Monk Septet: "If I were a piano player, I'd play it in the goddam closet."

Blueman's Daughter-The Horseflies: If only for those lonely "falling" repetitions.

Growin' Up-Bruce Springsteen: He would never admit to liking a phony like Bruce; nonetheless, he can't get enough of this song.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

State of the State of the Bunion

With Ohio Governor Ted Strickland giving his State of the State address today (in which he made a strong case that the history of the world cannot be written without Ohio; true, look it up somewhere) and President Obama giving his State of the Union speech tomorrow, I thought it would be appropriate to offer my own state of report today.

The state of the state of my bunion (hallux abducto valgus) is quite good today, what with the colder weather, a good pair of socks, and no recent stubbing. If the snow continues to fall, though, I might be forced to change from my comfortable slip-on shoes to sturdier lace-up boots, which don't seem to offer as much toe room as my other footwear. Ergo (or err toe) we could be in for a sorrier state of my bunion if the current trend of snow continues unabated. I will keep you posted and continue to do my best to serve my bunion. May God bless America and all its toes.

Kristin Hersh-Aching For You

Monday, January 25, 2010

Standing Up For Rust Belt Football

I have nothing against the New Orleans Saints. I'm happy they are going to their first Super Bowl, though with no real rooting interest in yesterday's Saints-Vikings game, I found myself leaning toward the Vikings as the game went on. Maybe it was a sentimental/masochistic thing: wanting to see a 40-year-old, Brett Favre, get one more shot in the limelight and wanting to endure two weeks of Favre media worship. Or maybe my leaning toward the Vikings had more to do with anti-Saints sentiments. After all, now there are only two NFL teams who have been around the entire Super Bowl era (1966 on) who have not made at least one appearance in the big game: the Detroit Lions and my Cleveland Browns. I'm not holding out a lot of hope that my Browns will get there anytime soon, but I'm hardly frightened that the Lions will beat them to it.

But here's a little history lesson for all of you snickering at us Lions and Browns fans (and let me tell you, it pains me to stand up for anything Detroit other than its music): in a mere six years (1952-57) the Browns and Lions met each other for the NFL Championship (the big enchilada--pre AFL, pre-merger) four times, including three years in a row ('52. '53, '54, '57--yes, the Browns went 1-3, but still). In fact, in incredible fact actually, in the sixteen years the Browns were in the NFL before the Super Bowl era began (1950-1965), the Browns were in the NFL Championship Game nine times (4-5 record).

So, it may have been mostly before my lifetime, and it may have been back when the whole world was black and white (the world didn't turn color until the Summer of Love, am I correct?), but once upon a time the Cleveland Browns virtually ruled the NFL, and the Lions were no slouches either. You can look it up.

So I'm grasping at straws here, showing my age and my despair--fine. Just don't pity me. If you must though, throw in some draft picks and a quarterback along with your jibes. Those who don't know their Browns ancient history are doomed to deeper gloom than necessary.

Delroy Wilson--Once Upon A Time

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tom, Just The Facts

The first good word that struck me this morning was tomfoolery. Nothing too juicy in its origin or history, but it got me wondering about all the Toms I've known. Goofy, eccentric, iconoclastic--these are words that come to mind with regard to my collection of Toms, but not really fool, foolish, or foolery. The Toms I know are too smart--book and street--to be fools. The more the mind wanders, though, the more it is drawn to one Tom in particular, perhaps the first Tom I knew, a good boyhood friend of mine. This Tom was definitely no fool; what he really was, when I think of it, is magical. Tomwizardry might be a term to coin in his honor.

My all-time favorite story about this particular Tom is one I told for years when I taught. I'd use the blackboard to draw stick figures of the action, make all kinds of asides, reference whatever was popular in the students' world at the time to make the story come alive even more. I even--I confess--might have embellished a detail here and there for comedic effect. But not today. In the interest of determining officially whether this Tom engaged in tomfoolery or tomwizardry or merely tommischief, I will tell the tale straight and let you be the judge.

1977. Freshman year in high school. We went to a school on the other side of town, so we had to take a series of bus and rapid transit rides to get to and fro. By the age of fourteen, Tom was well-established as a kind of ring-leader in all things whimsical. Tom Sawyer might have concocted a scheme to get others to whitewash the fence, but this Tom could have concocted a game of simply watching the whitewash dry. Everything could be worked into a game by him. At the time a one-way trip including all buses and rapids cost thirty-five cents. A pretty measly sum, even then. But much too much for us to spend if we could get away with spending less. And Tom, naturally, was the king of discovering ways to spend less, if not nothing at all. He was the one who'd put Necco candy wafers in the till and get away with it. He was the one who perfected the multi-part, climb the roof over the rapid stop to get past the toll booth, run and get a free transfer at the downtown stop, and pull the old three-man, one-transfer-out-the-back-bus-window scheme. An adolescent genius, no doubt.

Tom was also the one who discovered the flaw in the Pepsi machine. Before our last leg home every night, we used to have to wait in a grimy mini bus station for fifteen minutes or so. The "station" was nothing more than a kind of trapezoidal room with plastic seats along the walls, whose windows were a truly nasty plastic (nasty with the gunk from everybody's heads leaning against them as they waited Purgatory-like for their bus to come in). The only breaks in the line of chairs along the walls were for the two doors and the battered old Pepsi machine, which kind of served as the focal point of the room. Cans were only thirty-five cents at the time (yes, son, there was a time when nearly everything was a mere thirty-five cents; it's a wonder they didn't make a thirty-five-cent coin). Of course, there wasn't much of a choice back then--six buttons to push, three Pepsi, two diet, and one Mountain Dew (which was new then and hadn't quite reached its cult status). Although a couple of us made use of the machine every day, it was Tom who discovered that one of the plastic buttons for Pepsi would get stuck if you just pushed it in and up a little. Well, what delight this gave us for weeks. We'd sprint down from the rapid stop above to be the one who would stick the button, then we'd all sit back and watch the hijinks that ensued when some unsuspecting bus rider put thirty-five cents in the machine and before he or she could decide which button to push, a can of Pepsi would clamor through the machine and out of the slot at the bottom. Ball-busting fun, on an acutely fourteen-year-old boy level.

Hard as it is to believe, though, we eventually got bored with the stuck-Pepsi-machine-button ruse (or probably, Tom tired of it so we all tired of it too). As if sensing the boredom that would come with our gradually-encroaching adulthoods, we forgot about sticking the machine and simply sat on the seats, obliviously stared out the window, and waited for our bus to show like all the other bus station denizens. Within a few months of daily public transportation tripping through the big city, we had jadedly thought we'd seen it all. Nothing much ruffled our ennui except, barely at first, the big, hulking, hairy, thirty-something ogre who came into the station one day and put some money in the Pepsi machine. A twinge of nostalgia passed through me as I momentarily wished we had stuck the machine that day, just to see how this guy would have responded to the loud, instant can shooting out to him. What he did react to, though, was the machine not giving him any kind of can whatsoever. He pushed the plastic button a few times, jiggled the coin return lever (what's the percentage of coin return levers on any kind of vending machine working properly--25%, at best?), and even tried the time-honored bend-over-and-shove-your-arm-as-far-up-into-the-dispenser-to-pry-out-your-precious-can-of-carbonation move--all to no avail.

Did the guy go looking for somebody in a blue uniform to inform about the banditry of Pepsi-co. or did he shrug his shoulders and walk away, figuring, oh well, life just exacted another thirty-five cent toll from me, like most people in the same situation would have done? Hell no. Anticipating Olivia Newton John's 1981 smash hit, this guy got physical with/on/to the machine. First he pushed it, with both arms/hands, like a linebacker slapping the pads of a teammate prior to a big game. No Pepsi. Then he tried shaking it like some savage after coconuts. No Pepsi. Then, using his ample girth, he lurched at the machine from a standing position. Bam. No Pepsi. Now outside of the audience listening to Glenn Beck read his Christmas story, you've never encountered a more indifferent, uncaring, unwitnessing, oblivion-wracked crowd than the masses gathered in this particular bus station, but by the time the guy lurched into the machine people were starting to take notice, in that there's-a-lunatic-in-my-presence-and-I-know-I-shouldn't-look-but-goddamn-this-is-too-fascinating-not-to-watch kind of way. Maybe it was the lunatic's awareness of the crowd, or maybe he just really wanted that Pepsi, but he then proceeded to back away from the machine, all the way back to the opposite end of the room, maybe twenty feet, to the seats directly facing the machine, which, of course, happened to be occupied that day by Tom and yours truly. Standing right in front of us, facing the machine, the guy kind of sized-up his task for a few seconds, as I'm sure everybody there (I couldn't see much, the big galoot was right in front of me), like me, was thinking, no way, this guy is not going to run clear across the room and tackle the Pepsi mach-- he did. Like a mountain man running toward his newly shipped mail-order bride, the guy took off straight for the machine. He was large, the direct route no more than twenty feet, but he maxed out his speed about seventeen feet into his dash, and then crash! It wasn't a tackle, just a collision, the apotheoisis of the by now age-old man vs. machine conflict in all its glory. The air exploded, the guy grunted, the crowd gasped, the machine quaked. But, no Pepsi. I should say just about all of the crowd gasped, because one voice in the crowd didn't gasped, it guffawed. Tom. Still dazed from his collision, the man wheeled and seethed in the direction of the guffaw, which being my direction, since I was sitting right next to Tom. Fearing time, all time, my time, was desperately short, I silently recited the digested, no-frills, get-to-the-point form of the Hail Mary: "Now and at the hour of our death, amen!" I am sure in those brief, suspended seconds, more than a few of the bus station crowd were looking at Tom and me and thinking, "them boys about to die."

Maybe all the fight in the guy had been expended on his mad dash/collision; maybe he suddenly (albeit belatedly) realized how foolish he looked; maybe he was out on parole for something and had a split second moment of grace and wisdom that told him to stop right there, that Pepsi and those boys aren't worth a return trip to the big house; maybe there are Guardian Angels; or maybe the overwhelming metaphysical inertia of the place finally enveloped him--whatever, the guy, after a couple near bladder-loosening (me) seconds of staring us down, gave up, found a seat near the machine and sat his ample, defeated ass down.

Within a minute, complete apathy was restored to the station.

Good story, no? Hardly. We're just getting to the good part. A minute or two after all this, Tom quietly asked me if I had a dime on me. Sure, I said, and started to dig in my pocket. "The guy only put a quarter in the machine," Tom whispered, and smirked. Oh no, Tom, don't, please...handing him the dime against all good judgment (what could I do, this was Tomwizardry in all its spell-casting power--such trifles as good judgment, the survival instinct, concern for my fellow man, all were no match; this was the guy, after all, who I had witnessed, a year or two before, throw an unwrapped mini Snickers bar from the very top row at Public Hall toward the floor where the high school basketball city championship game had just concluded; I had watched, with keener eyesight than I've ever had before and definitely since, that little candy bar fly down through the air, hit the hardwood floor and, instead of smashing to bits, roll end over end across the mayhem-filled court and right between the legs of the referee who was walking off the court with the game ball).

Tom took my dime as I took one last inventory of what had been my life. Without announcing the fact, Tom made clear to whatever part of the crowd cared, but especially the defeated big guy who sat glumly near the machine, still trying to catch his breath, that he (Tom) only had a dime and was proceeding to the Pepsi machine to insert it. Tom did just that, pausing to theatrically make his choice of soda, but also for the fact to sink in that he had just put merely a dime into the machine that had so recently waged and won an epic battle with the gorilla who sat nearby licking his wounds. I know I heard that dime descend through all its machinations and land loudly on top of the other coins, most especially the recent quarter (only) that the ogre had deposited. By leaning back a little, I could take in Tom and the guy (the only one watching the scene more intently than I) at once. I figured in the short time it would take the guy to devour Tom, I could be running out the side door and hopping on the first bus I saw, happily willing to pay the full thirty-five cent fare, happily willing to go to wherever the bus might take me because I knew salvation would be waiting for me at the end of the line. Eventually Tom pressed one of the Pepsi buttons, the machine burped and clanged as usual, and a fresh cold can of Pepsi emerged at the bottom of the machine. I couldn't look but I couldn't not look. Tom stood there with his pride and joy, a ten-cent (technically my ten cents, but I had immediately surrendered [not in any legal sense, but in my heart, to God] all claims to said dime and anything that could be gotten with it) can of Pepsi. He pulled the by now obsolete pop top, threw it in the little receptacle in the machine, took a deep gulp of the cola, and emitted a satisfying "aaaahhhh"--all right in front of the ogre. I tried hard to memorize every detail of the scene, for the police and for Tom's parents at the wake. With the ogre just sitting there in an incredulous stupor, Tom walked back over to me with the smirkingest Pepsi-gulping grin, held the can out, and said, "D'ya want some?" Blindly bound as I was at the time in the ninth year of my twelve-year Catholic school servitude, I still would have rather drunk gluttonously and unquestioningly from the chalice at a Black Mass than to have even touched that Pepsi can. Tom had no such qualms: he imbibed happily. And by the time he had finished the can and our bus had pulled up, the ogre, wholly defeated, had slunk out of the bus station. Thirty-plus years later, he's probably still walking, looking for some retribution, enlightenment, clarification, peace, who knows?

So, Tomfoolery, Tommischief, Tomwizardry, or just Tom being Tom? All I know is I survived to tell the embellished tale, and now, for once, the unadorned facts of the case.

David Bowie-Boys Keep Swinging

Friday, January 22, 2010

Small Favors

I'm in a tavern toinght, and I have to use the men's room. I go to open the door, and it's locked. No big deal--I stand in the hallway between the men's and women's rooms, do a little dance, and prepare my awkward greeting for when the guy exits (hopefully rather quickly): "Hey man," or some other such warm salutation. Soon the door opens and a young woman walks out. "Eeehhh," I say, a little surprised. "Hi," she chirps back, "sorry, but someone was in the women's room." "No problem," I say as I enter the men's room. When you gotta go, you gotta go, no problem at all. I set up at the urinal and notice the toilet next to me: the water's running and the seat is UP!

That made my day, which was a rather pleasant one all around. When I go back to join my friend, I tell her the story and express how thoughtful that was of the young woman to put the seat back up after using the men's room. I think about all the times I have used a unisex or family's bathroom and how I try to be polite and put the seat back down (mama didn't raise no totally impolite lad). Well, my friend argues that in all probability the young woman never lowered the seat in the first place, that women would rather not touch anything in a public restroom, especially a men's. Well, that little nugget of TMI unsettled me on a couple of levels, so I am choosing to believe the young woman did indeed lower then re-raise the seat out of politeness; such a belief helps me soldier on in good spirits through this cruel world.

Whoever you are, young woman, I thank you.

Sam & Dave-I Thank You

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ever Seen A Violinist On A Picket Line?

The old joke is that the difference between the Titanic and Cleveland is that Cleveland has a better orchestra. Apparently, sad to say, those Titanic orchestra members had stronger backbones: they went down with the ship, whereas their Cleveland counterparts folded as soon as they smelled the chilly briny air, so to speak.

Words fail to describe my disappointment that the members of the Cleveland Orchestra ended their strike yesterday morning after a mere thirty hours and agreed to a new three-year contract. My Wobbly sensibilities are deeply offended. Yes, this Bob Dylan fanatic is well aware that the Cleveland Orchestra is one of the world's finest, and that is precisely one of the reasons why I'm so mad at them for not walking that picket line for at least thirty days, if not months. Hell, these are world-class classical musicians; thirty hours isn't long enough for them to locate all the strike essentials--wooden stakes, posterboards, magic markers, and a large trash can in which to start a fire--let alone make management quiver, local copy editors spellcheck the word scab, and wealthy season ticket holders instruct their maids to examine their (wealthy season ticket holders') consciences. This is January in Cleveland, what else is there for us natives to get passionate about except a nasty, prolonged labor donnybrook? Football season is long dead, basketball season better not get interesting around here until round three of the playoffs in late May, and if the Indians are playing .500 ball by the Fourth of July, maybe I'll rouse up some interest. But gee whiz, a knock-down, drag-em-out strike full of picket line skirmishes, labor-management word bombs hurled via the media, angry union members rocking a bus full of scab musicians trucked in from the Columbus backwater in the middle of the night--damn, it could have been such fun. I was really looking forward to Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson calling a news conference to call out the Pinkertons. Guess I'll just get back to my marathon viewing of the entire Knight Rider TV series.

I bet the bassoonists were in it for the long haul, prepared with longjohns and brass knuckles, just in case. The kettle drummer too, the muscle of the organization. It was those damn diva violinists, I'm sure, who copped out and started the cave in, and of course everybody knows, wherever violinists go, the cellos and double basses are sure to follow. Damn strings. "It's too cold to walk a picket line." "My chin will get bent out of shape if I have to carry a sign." "Where's the brie?" Bah.

Josh Cribbs, the Browns' all-world special teamer, has the damn-right guts to call the team's $1.4 million offer "an insult," and these fey musicians, with an example like that, fold after thirty hours and agree to a two-year wage freeze followed by a 2.5% increase on a base salary of $115,400? You're the best damned French Horn player in the universe, for God's sake, you deserve at least 800 beans. God only hopes LeBron James is as easy to re-sign come July. I thought this was Cleveland, folks! Tough. Shot and a beer town. I had visions of all the local laid-off auto and steel workers coming out in support of their fellow wronged-laborers, sporting old union patches and plenty of vitriol for the local TV cameras. I saw Pere Ubu, a re-united Raspberries, and Michael Stanley holding a benefit concert for their hurting brother and sister musicians. I saw a Cleveland populace united once again, for the first time in years, rallying around their world's greatest musicians, throwing rotten eggs at Severance Hall, having a simpatico city-wide sit-down strike in a couple weeks' time.

But no, those great oboists and harpists struck long enough so that an appearance at Indiana University had to be postponed indefinitely, but came to terms quick enough not to jeopardize a residency in Miami. Hmmm, skip Bloomington, Indiana, in January (or any time, really) but get our asses to Miami pronto? Done. Ted Kennedy's seat goes to a Republican and union members in the tough union town of Cleveland fold and pack for Miami all in the same day. Where have you gone, Samuel Gompers?

Woody Guthrie-1913 Massacre

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

3 Is #1 In My Book (For Clevelanders Only)

After my recent, sincere paean (read the post here) to the unadulterated charms of local WKYC-TV 3 weatherman A.J. Colby garnered the most hits of any of my posts (it's true, and lots of nods in agreement BTW), and another post about parental discretion warnings, I've been thinking about my life-long relationship with the various local TV channels a bit. Although it's been years since I've owned a television myself (try it, it's wonderful), I do get my TV watching in here and there. Sad to say, though, I never received one of those Nielsen TV diaries to keep to do my part in stoking the ratings wars. Upon reflection, though, I can unequivocally state that over the course of forty years of TV viewing in Cleveland, Channel 3 is my favorite. From Wally Kinnan the Weatherman and Jim Granger on sports, through the cutesy Doug and Mona years, and up to the present day with calm A.J. Colby, the station has hands down had the best and most personable on-air talent. What stars: Wayland Boot, Bob Zappe, Tom Ragland, John Harrington, Joe Mosbrook, Del Donahoo, Mark Nolan, Maureen Kyle. The audacity to put Dick Feagler in the anchor's chair. A pre-avuncular-smarmy Leon Bibb with his weekend nights partner Sheryl Browne. The generous attempt to make the great Paul Warfield a TV personality. Connie Dieken (nee Schoppenheimer or something). Hickory Hideout. Does anybody remember Amanda Arnold? I do. The point is, through all the gimmicks, new sets, techno-wizardry, sweeps junk, bad hairstyles, and worse fashion, Channel 3 has always kicked the other local stations in the sheer likeable people category. Outside of Zappe, I'd be happy to have any and all of the above over for dinner. Oh why not, you can come too, Bob.

But I'm perplexed. What does the KYC stand for? The other local stations' call letters are easy: WEWS is, boring! a truncated spelling of news; WOIO is Ohio without the H, which is kind of like going to the Horseshoe in Columbus and not seeing a touchdown or the i dotted--it ain't working, folks; WJW is plainly Just Wacko. But KYC? Know Your Cleveland? Much too insipid to be real. Kill Your Competition? In my book, yes, but perhaps a bit extreme for the good folks there. Knight Your Colby? Certainly, but the call letters have been there longer than A.J.'s been alive, I believe (though A.J. certainly knows to Keep Your Cool). Knead Your Cucumbers? Great kitchen advice, but I doubt it. Knowledge Yields Compassion? Too Brahmin. Kippers, Yorkshire pudding, and Chips? Too British. Knaves, Yobs, and Clods? No, those are my lawyers. I give up. Somebody please tell me what the KYC in WKYC stands for so I can pay them the proper respect for keeping their local news watchable all these years while the competition Kicks, Yells, and Careens.

P.S. My previous post about A.J. had a Massive Attack song. This post has a Massive Attack song. I have no idea about the synergy between Channel 3 and appropriate Massive Attack songs.

Massive Attack-Three

Monday, January 18, 2010

Nobody Knows The Rubbles I Dream

I realize today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I send out my deepest respect to Dr. King and his dream and legacy, but January 18th is also National Catharsis Day, which every few years or so, like today, gets kind of pre-empted a bit, which is fine, but today I just have to get this out: For years now I've been tormented, haunted, unsettled by various re-occurring dreams of the Rubbles--Barney, Betty, and even Bam Bam. Just this afternoon, during my daily nap, Barney was serenading me with his hokum renditions of some of my favorite Bob Dylan songs (needless to say, a quite hammy version of "Like A Rolling Stone" is the centerpiece of his set). I can't take it anymore. At the risk of becoming a worldwide laughingstock, I'm spilling the beans here and now, hoping, wishing, praying that by telling the world, the madness might stop.

My childhood was not spent in front of the television. My first words were not yabba dabba do. Betty's cute, but she's an anorexic cartoon character who can also be a bit of a hen pecker--I'm aware of all of that; there's nothing delusional/weird going on there. If you had asked me anytime during my growing up to list my favorite cartoon characters, Bugs Bunny would have always topped the list, and the Rubbles would have been far down the list. I have no explanation for this dream phenomenon I've been suffering from, experiencing for decades now. All I know is that in a fit of fitness passion, I once emptied a bottle of Flinstones Vitamins, culled all the Betty ones, and ate them all with a single gulp of Kool-Aid, fully expecting my eight-year-old biceps to bulge immediately and maybe, just maybe, a svelte brunette to sidle by. Innocent kid's play, no? Well, within days Bam Bam was bamming in my brain throughout the night. Then came the endless nights of Barney's neon-orb face saying nothing but, "Hey, Fred" to me. There was no looking back: Betty in a bikini turning Dino on a backyard spit; Barney, Joe Rockhead, and Mr. Slate doing crude Three Stooges imitations; Barney and Betty playing Twister; Elroy,George Jetson's boy, time-traveling back to Bedrock to steal Pebbles away form Bam Bam at a school dance; Betty proffering me margaritas from a jacuzzi; Fred and Barney stoned, talking about Johnny Quest episodes; Wilma and Betty attending Undereaters' Anonymous meetings; nights where I found myself sitting on a stone couch watching ponderous slide shows of the Rubbles' family trips to pyramid construction sites; one dark night of the soul where I was engaged in a non-stop game of paper, rock, scissors with Betty, who always threw rock to my perpetual scissors and would cackle a victory cackle in my ear; Bam Bam catching me looking at his mother's legs and pounding me senseless with that club of his; the week I spent drinking coffee to stay awake to avoid the dream of Barney and that stupid little alien thing planning a practical joke on Fred that involved a car with a floorboard; a game of lawn darts with Barney, and every time he bent over, trying to look down his, what, tunic?, to see if the man has any kind of a neck; years of pleading with them all to try, just try, shoes.

Folks, these are just a small sample of the ones I remember. The more heinous ones are buried deep in cortexes I don't want to examine. If someone out there suffers similarly, I hope my story brings some empathy and the knowledge that you are not alone; if my story succeeds in blasting the Rubbles from my subconscious, you will be witnessing a changed, much happier, waking gum spitter outer over the next few weeks. Good night (I hope).

Sam Cooke-Nobody Knows The Troubles I've Seen

Sunday, January 17, 2010


True story from my Army days:

Years later, the Sarge (Spencer “Leek” Abbot) e-mailed everybody he could track down that he had met a guy named Pervis Huddle who swore on his dentistry practice that in the first grade Mercurial (aka Pfc. Mercurial T Blamesmith), soon after becoming a capable reader, looked at the field trip permission form (a trip to a potato chip factory) that the teacher (Miss Ivana Cleave) had just handed out for the students to have their parents sign (back when it was okay for teachers to refer to their students' legal guardians as parents), Mercurial looked at the paper and said, “Nah, that's not it.” Thus, the Sarge claimed (and after all he was obviously the most obsessed by Mercurial's obsession) that he had found the earliest documented instance of Mercurial's insistence that a given piece of paper was “not it.” Furthermore, the Sarge argued, this ancient piece of evidence further buttressed his longtime assertion that Mercurial was fated from early on, uncannily prescient, and otherworldly meticulous—ergo, sane in a completely insane way, yet still, damnit, sane.

My first witnessing of Mercurial's peculiar pulp rejection came three hours after I had arrived at Fort Dix, which would have been six weeks after Mercurial's, by which time his “habit,” if not his legend, was well-established SOP. It was a grocery list, of all things, that I had found peeking out from under my bunk, a hastily scrawled half-a-dozen item list containing nothing more intriguing than Preparation H and Wheat Germ. Mercurial was the only other one around, lying on his bunk playing an early handheld video game of tic-tac-toe. “This wouldn't be yours, would it?” I showed him the list. He looked at it, even seemed to consider the possibility for a second, then politely handed it back to me, “No, this isn't it.” I didn't think much of the specific nature of his reply (that this wasn't his shopping list, but it could have been, let me know if you come across another one) until the next afternoon, when Sarge (with his usual posterior-embedded insect) put us all on “police call” to clean up the wind-blown mess around the barracks. “Assholes and elbows, that's all I want to see, men. If it's not growing, pick it up.” Well, some brass's poor toady must have dropped a briefcase on that windy day because there were papers everywhere, reams of the stuff drifting against barrack walls like so much snow. You could, and we did, bend over and scrunch up a good five or six pages in each hand every two steps; all of us, except Mercurial, who deliberately picked up one piece of paper at a time, scanned its contents, shook his head, said, “No, that's not it,” crumpled it, threw it in the large plastic bag Tunch Skowron held, and moved on to the next piece. Well, that day might have been the day when Mercurial's legend was etched in stone, and it certainly (from my vantage point) was the day Sarge's ample buttocks parted enough for the ultimate bug to ensconce itself.

Soon the tales were pouring in. A minuscule sample: Flex Gerace reported going to a base deli with Mercurial and watching Mercurial methodically pull numbers out of the “now serving number...” machine, inspect each one, and say, “Naw, that's not it.” Goof Hlavaty swore he saw Mercurial go through each paper in Sarge's in and out boxes (while the two of them were dusting Sarge's office) with the same result: “Nope, that's not it.” Phil Oxbow said base chippy Maria Handsov told him that one night, after entertaining Mercurial, he spent two hours going through her typing class folders and announcing that each and every sheet of paper was indeed, “not it.” Felix Snivel came back from the dumpsters one evening to report that Mercurial was standing in one, with two to go; as of yet, Snivel said, Mercurial had not found “it.”

The “it” of course was cause for all sorts of speculation, especially since all Mercurial would offer, when questioned about “it,” was a cryptic, “S'personal. I'll know it when I see it.” A love letter from an abandoned or abandoning Hometown Honey, birth certificate, combination for some lock, instructions for a new-fangled clock/radio that Mercurial had but never used, directions for a buried treasure—these were some of the more pedestrian explanations given. Vinnie Trotz theorized the phantom piece of paper was Mercurial's mother's spaghetti sauce recipe that she evidently had taken with her to her grave. Thorax Vesuvius, whenever the subject came up, which it did more frequently as every piece of paper within a hundred yard radius of Mercurial came to be examined and discarded, would spit and say something like, “Probably just a Xerox of his pecker he drunkenly made and then drunkenly lost.” Miles Offish, betraying the sensibilty that years later made him a CIA field op in American Samoa, took a piece of paper one day, magic-markered a big “IT” on it, and stuffed it at the bottom of a pile of papers within Mercurial's ken, but despite the crowd that had gathered, Mercurial, when he finally came upon it after carefully inspecting the entire pile, just shook his head and said, “Nuh uh, that's definitely not it,” and placed the paper on top of the stack and went outside for a smoke.

After the fact, of course, when we had been filling sandbags, running supplies to the high school gym, and keeping (as opposed to enforcing, because those flood victims in upstate western New York were the most peaceable natural disaster victims of all time) the peace in Elmira, New York, for more than a week, a week of unadorned boredom to make you wish you could have a week of R'n'R in Hell, a week that was the furthest thing from any armed glory your pre-inducted ass could ever dream of, then, of course, the “it”--recently uncovered—tortured all of us with its simplicity and genius.

It had been a Monday around noon, about three days after the rains had started and about thirty-six hours before we were deployed to Elmira (that's how perfectly genius-like Mercurial was, let's face it), when Sarge snapped. Mercurial was found sitting on the floor with a tipped over metal waste basket next to him. The entire contents of the waste basket were the emptyings of what must have been the base's entire allotment of three-ring-binder hole punchers: thousands of little paper circles were scattered all about the sitting Mercurial, who would wet a finger, pick one up at a time, look at it, remove it from his moist finger with fingers from the other hand, inspect the other side, announce that “nada, that's not it,” then flick it back into the waste basket and move onto the next one. Sarge, after being summoned to view the spectacle by Hughie Buck and Sassafrass Gumshot, watched Mercurial for a good ten minutes, then made a nauseous face and sound from his gut and exploded. “Now, Blamesmith! To Colonel Stunt. Now!”

What ensued in the base psychiatrist's office was verified by Sarge who, the next night, while we all packed for Elmira, wined and dined Colonel Dr. Alphonzo Stunt in order to learn the supposedly confidential facts. Mercurial walked in with a note from Sarge hastily explaining his, Mercurial's, paper-perusing-and-refusing mania (a note Mercurial scanned while taking the elevator up to Stunt's fourth floor office and announced to Virginia Tobago, receptionist for base urologist Dr. Art Dekko, who was returning from her lunch break, “No sir, that's not it”) and as he handed it to Stunt made a beeline for Stunt's waste basket and started rifling. After reading Sarge's missive, Stunt managed to ask Mercurial a few questions, to which Mercurial responded with mono-syllabic obfuscations. Stunt showed him a few Rorschach cards, which Mercurial dutifully dismissed with several, “No, that's not it”s. Then Stunt, “an absent-minded sonofabitch,” as Sarge would thereafter call him, handed Mercurial a piece of paper with a statement of the Army's patient confidentiality policy. Mercurial looked it over and casually handed it back to Stunt saying, “No, that's not it.” It was then that Stunt, “an inattentive, shameless layabout,” as Bert Wert (who had had some bedwetting issues after returning from Elmira) would later describe him, who (Stunt) had a standing 1:30 Monday afternoon tee time (come rain, snow, or sleet), pulled out of his desk a piece of paper, scribbled a few sentences on it, ostentatiously signed it, and handed the paper over to Mercurial, who, seeing the words “Section 8 Discharge” in bold at the top, barely glanced over the rest of it, folded it carefully, and as he started to tuck it in his breast pocket, unsmilingly, totally business-like, said (to Stunt, himself, the world, who knows?), “Yes, that's it.”

Dave Van Ronk-Yas, Yas, Yas

Friday, January 15, 2010

See You Later, Bobby Charles

Another hero is gone. Robert Charles Guidry, better known as Bobby Charles, has died. You may not know him or his music, but you should know a couple of the songs he wrote: "See You Later Alligator" (made famous by Bill Haley and His Comets), "I'm Walking To New Orleans" (Fats Domino), and "(I Don't Know Why I Love You) But I Do" (Clarence "Frogman" Henry). Hard to believe a guy who wrote such big hits more than fifty years ago ("Alligator" was written when he was about 17) was still putting out albums up until the last year or so. His early, self-titled album he made with Rick Danko and assorted other luminaries is one of the great mostly unheard records of all-time.

While the Yankees' pitcher Ron Guidry (no relation that I've ever heard) was known as Louisiana Lightnin', Bobby could have easily been called Louisiana Breeze--he didn't make a whole lot of appearances, but when he did, the results were always delightful. His dry, laid-back voice, with just a hint of his Cajun roots, is one of the most relaxed but soulful voices I have heard. His songs are humorous, heartfelt, and instantly hummable.

My favorite story, maybe apocryphal, is that the legendary founder of the classic blues label Chess, Leonard Chess, signed the young Guidry to a contract over the phone after hearing "Alligator." Chess was surprised upon later meeting his new signee: he assumed Guidry was black. As it was, Guidry, now Charles, was one of the first and few white artists on Chess.

Whatever. I just love the music. And I assume if there is a better place for Bobby than Cajun country, he's there now.

Bobby Charles-I Must Be In A Good Place Now

Bobby Charles-Goin' Fishin'

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Snowballs and Hades

So it got to 40 degrees or so today here in Cleveland, with lots of sunshine. The melting has commenced. While outside rejoicing, I started to think of snowballs. This is great weather for them, "good packing snow," as we used to say. Used to, because I can't remember the last time I threw a real snowball. By real I mean intentionally at someone or something with the intention to do some minor damage. As a boy, of course, snow = snowballs, period. I still envy my late elementary school classmate Joe Gaul's ability to throw a snowball with more lethal power than a kid should have a right to muster. He was a southpaw, so I always chalked up his prowess to that. Snowball throwing and snowball fights are kind of impromtu; one never really has a pick-up snowball fight, but if we ever did, Joe would have always been the first one picked.

My favorite recent snowball story: A couple years ago I was driving during rush hour on a day much like today. Stopped at a light behind some cars, including one that had cut me off a half mile up the road, I noticed some kids walking on the sidewalk starting to pack some good snowballs. Sure enough, as the light turned, they pelted the car I was already mad at. I smiled a nostalgic smile, thinking about what one of Joe Gaul's supersonic snowballs would have done to today's cheap car paneling. Then, so predictably, the car's brake lights went on, and I could see the driver undo the seatbelt and start to get out of the car. Come on, I thought, just drive. They didn't break a window, they're just kids, etc. Then, surprise surprise--because I hadn't noticed she was the one who had cut me off--out of the car stepped a woman I know. She looked down the street at the now running away kids, as horns blared because of the stopped traffic, and screeched, "Assssssshhhhhoooooooooolllllllessssssss!" She then got back in the car, buckled her seatbelt, and drove off. Half as satisfied, I hope, as I was by the entire show.

So I've been thinking about snowballs all day. In any snowy climate, snowballs are legendary among kids, so it comes as a surprise to me when I tried to round up all the famous snowballs in cultural history. I didn't find many, and I would appreciate anyone chiming in with any I forgot. As far as visual art, which I don't know all that well, I can think of nothing. Same goes for movies, though I know there must be some. Anybody? In literature I can think of a couple great examples. Philip Roth's disturbing recent novel, Indignation, has an epic snowball fight take place on the campus of Ohio's (fictional) college campus, Winesburg College. There's also a pretty good snowball fight in A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Roberston Davies kicks off his tremendous Deptford Trilogy with an errant, "loaded" snowball thrown at hero Dunstan Ramsay by one Percy Boyd Staunton. Dunstan ducks and the snowball hits the pregnant minister's wife, Mary Dempster, and from there all sorts of things ensue in Fifth Business. My favorite literary snowball, though, is the one Holden Caulfield doesn't throw because everything looks too snowy beautiful to mar in The Catcher in the Rye. Great books, great snowballs, but that is it, as far as I can remember. And music, well, unless Mozart has a snowball symphony I'm unfamiliar with, I can't think of anything. Why this dearth of snowball art? Where's the great snowball ballet/mural/sonnet/sculpture?

And then there's the old snowball in hell phrase, which is too pedestrian for me to do much with, as vivid an image as it is. Of course, Hell's been on my mind today, too, after hearing the wacky Pat Robertson expound on Haiti's current problems. One hopes his job in the next world is to be the snowball maker and preserver in Hell. On my drive home today, a caller on talk radio had to clarify that some previous caller was referring to Hades, not Haiti's. So, today's been all melting snow and hell, leaving me once again glad to live where I do, where snow and cold are about as bad as it gets, and there's always a few days a year with good packing snow. I wonder, if I summon up the spirit of Joe Gaul, if I can reach Pat Robertson's goofy noggin with a snowy missive launched from my driveway.

Curt Kirkwood-Snow

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Alphabetical Exclusions

With the NFL playoffs in full swing, college and pro basketball heating up, baseball spring training mere weeks away (standing ovation!), and even the Olympics garnering some spotlights, you will soon, no doubt, be hearing someone say, "There is no 'i' in team." As if multi-millionaire athletes and their media toadies have a stranglehold on all the alphabetical arcana. I think not. What follows is a whole alphabet of some perhaps surprising words missing some perhaps surprising letters. This is best when read aloud, preferably to multitudes ("I" is the middle word in pride, baby).

There Is No “t” In China

There is no...

          a in flunk

          b in death

          c in blindness

          d in matriculation

          e in Tahiti

          f in intercourse

          g in whiz

          h in my urine

          i in superego

          j in NA

          k in whiff

          l in heaven

          m in supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

          n in sight

          o in celibacy

          p in catheter

          q in out of line

          r in mine

          s in m permitted here

          t in China

          u in me

          v in defeat

          w in vacuum

          x in algebra

          y in because

          z in insomnia
The Gaylads-A.B.C. Rocksteady


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Who Would Ever Want To Leave The 96799?

The boys who stoke the fires in the Brobdingnagian engine room of spitoutyourgum have informed me that some wayward web wanderer recently reached this humble abode by googling the following: "how to suspend you as citizenship." Immediately, as usual, my mind raced in multiple directions: what the hell have I written that would lead anyone looking to suspend his or her citizenship in anything to my e-doorstep?; is the C.I.A onto me? although I pride myself on knowing scores of obscure abbreviations, what does AS stand for? All I could come up with was Australia. Wrong again, mate. It turns out AS stands for American Samoa, which, until I wiki-ed it, I had always assumed was some sort of Starbucks concoction featuring marshmallows, mocha, and Kraft American Cheese.

Well, after doing some digging, this armchair traveler can now state without equivocation that outside of the loving arms of Penelope Cruz, American Samoa is now tops on my list of as-of-yet-unvisited desired destinations. To the wayward soul who was looking to suspend his or her AS citizenship, I can only say, with the utmost delicacy, what the hell are you thinking? See for yourself. A small group of islands (and atolls--never underestimate the allure of atolls) in the South Pacific, American Samoa sounds like paradise, if an occasional typhoon doesn't rankle you too much. With a total land mass about the size of Washington D.C. (and, um, natural hot air), a population of 65,000, and only one zip code to memorize (96799), could Heaven be much different? Plus, there's intrigue (international--rivarly with neighboring Samoa [formerly and should still be Western Samoa]; and domestic--some say the capital is Pago Pago, others Fagatogo [I'll bite my tongue on that one, but I'll bet you a three-dollar bill the dance music and the drapes there are fabulous; and besides, you can't go wrong with a capital named either Pago Pago or Fagatogo]).

My favorite story about AS is the one from 1889 when three German military ships showed up and wreaked some havoc on American property there. Sure enough, Uncle Sam wouldn't stand for it, so three U.S. ships showed up, but a typhoon (talk about acts of God) hit and wiped out all the bellicose ships, thus prompting a, I kid you not, "compulsory armistice, because of the lack of warships."

Or how about this? Because the U.S. Congress has never passed an "Organic Act" (as opposed to all the inorganic acts and members of Congress?) with regard to AS, AS is technically classified an "unorganized territory" (thus joining my sock drawer, all the Cleveland area Marc's stores, Detroit, and college fraternities across the land as official unorganized U.S. territories). I don't know, anonymous reader, but an unorganized territory lacking organic acts, a putative capital named Pago Pago, and atolls (plus a chance to become an NFL player forty times greater than any non-American Samoan) sounds too good for me: sight unseen I'll trade you my Cleveland Heights citizenship (the parking meter fees can't be any higher, plus I'll throw in my two snow scrapers [won't be needing those in the southern-most territory in the U.S.]) for your AS one.

Anyway, after this revelation of the wonders of American Samoa, I've got my whole team turning wheels. In an effort to "grow" my brand globally and go international with my magnanimity, I am hereby designating myself Northern Ohio cultural attache for American Samoa and this site the cyber sister city of Pago Pago and Fagatogo. I am publicly offering an open invitation for a wine and cheese meet and greet to the AS delegate (non-voting--the best kind, when you think about it) to the U.S. House of Representatives, the Honorable Eni Fa'aua'a Hunkin Faleomavaega, Jr. (okay, that's it, the man wins, hands down, for the coolest middle names ever; I'm going to appropriate Fa'aua'a Hunkin as my new nom de plume; the last time I uttered the sound "Fa'aua'a" was when the temperature nose-dived fifty degrees overnight at the nudist colony I occasionally frequent; come to think of it, usually when occasionally frequenting the nudist colony, I hear the word "hunkin'!" in my wake). Also, I will be holding a parade in my driveway on July 1, the AS Constitution Day. All are welcome.

In all seriousness, because of economic hardships in American Samoa, the military (American) is one of the best sources for financial security. As of March 2009, 12 American Samoans had lost their lives in either Iraq or Afghanistan--a pretty huge percentage when you consider the population.

Angry Samoans-Highway To Hell

Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E.-Angry Samoans

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ready To Set Sail Again

We're jumping for joy here in Cleveland: the forecast calls for temps in the mid-30s and no snow in the days to come. Not much, I admit, but after the last two weeks, we'll gladly take it. It's not enough, though, to start booking tee times, pulling shorts out of the drawer, and slathering on the sun screen. No, it's a great time to hibernate with a good book, which is what I'm going to do as soon as I finish this. I'm starting a new one tonight, a 700+ page epic I've had my eye on for years, and have been itching to get to in a big way for the last couple of weeks. The last two books I've read, Swann's Way and Madame Bovary, were terrific, but as nice as 19th century France was, I'm looking to get out of that love-mad world. I can't reveal what book I'm starting tonight in case my reading of it fails and I have to face the McGwire-like infamy of having to admit it here--you'll have to wait a few weeks at least for my report, given its length and the author's notorious penchant for writing "difficult" books. Needless to say, this time of the year in these parts is the ideal time to dive into such a lengthy and demanding book--it makes not shoveling the snow that much more enjoyable.

I love this precise time--the minutes before opening a new--to me--book. The mind somersaults with delicious questions: will I be enraptured within the first few pages?; will I need to work at it, slowly?; who are the characters I'll become enamored with and can't wait for them to re-appear in the book?; will this be one of those books that will obsess me, sending me to look up obscure facts, words, places, and people, distracting me from electronic devices, playoff football games, and personal grooming, making me eschew nights of full sleep, propelling me to tell everyone I meet about it? or will it be a chore, one of those reads I feel obligated to finish without really enjoying it all that much? will it be one of those unfortunate few books I like but from some reason after getting half-way through I never pick up again, its bookmarked presence haunting me from the table next to my bed until months from now, buried under other books and magazines, I finally capitulate, dig it out to make room for others, sadly pluck the bookmark out and stuff it on a shelf with a half-promise to give it another go in due time? will it open my eyes, rack my brain, upend my sensibilities and prejudices? will it become a totem, or just another notch? Who knows, but I can't wait to find out the answers to these and hundreds of other as-of-yet unformulated questions. So sayonara, and keep it down, please, I'm trying to read here.

Bo Carter-Ants In My Pants

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why Would Anyone Need More Than One Way To Skin This Thing?

Let me get this out of the way right now: I can't stand cats. Even if I were not allergic to them, to the point of burning sensations in the chest, sneezing fits, and eyes so itchy I can't see, I would still not like them. Haughty, aloof, and about as much fun as a convention of abstemious, serially monogamous, and devoutly heterosexual shoe salesmen, cats seem to me to be the polar opposite of what anyone would want in a pet. A couple weeks ago I was ringing up a lady in the store who was buying a cat calendar. Bored, I said what I usually say to someone buying anything cat related: "I'm sorry, I'm allergic to cats, I can't ring you up." Wait two beats. "No, I'm just kidding." The woman took no pity on my feline-induced respiratorial and visual plights and just sighed, "Oh, a life without cats." Her tone was sad, bordering on the horrified, while I muttered underneath my breath, "If only."

That said, due to circumstances beyond my control, I have lived with a cat named Boo for five years. I like Boo. He does amuse me from time to time, and I have spotted glimpses of a personality from time to time. Which doesn't change my mind at all on cats, but only serves to deepen my understanding of something a southern professor told me twenty years ago about racial relations. He told the story of a white woman who worked in day care and was loved by all the kids and parents, who were predominately black. Eventually she was convicted of plotting to bomb a black church. The professor talked about people loving the individual but hating the race, or vice versa, hating the individual but loving the race; although the concepts sound absurd, they make a lot of sense in understanding some people's views on race. It also sums up my view on cats. I like (I can't go so far as to say love) Boo, but I still hate the race of cats.

Anyway, over the last few days, as happens, the phrase "there is more than one way to skin a cat" has popped up a couple times in my life. The phrase, which obviously means there are many ways to accomplish a given task, intrigues me not because I'm some allergy-afflicted nutcase who wants to skin every cat alive (though don't think I haven't thought about what such a post might do to my hit rate if the PETA people found out about it). Sadly, like most phrases that interest me, there doesn't seem to be a lot known about where or why the phrase originated. But what intrigues me so much about the phrase is that there ever was a time and a place where skinning cats was so prevalent that multiple ways of doing it were invented and became so popular that the act of skinning a cat, in multiple ways, could become a metaphoric phrase that exists to this day. I'm not big on venison, and for all I know there is only one way to skin a deer, but I could "get" the phrase "there is more than one way to skin a deer" a lot more easily than the cat version.

I just read a statistic that says 70% of the world's population is not allowed to freely practice their religion. Horrible stat, and while it seems a little too high to me, I realize that from my provincial, thank God I'm an American perspective, I just might not know how un-free the rest of the world is. But I would wager, even with my limited, very privileged American middle class upbringing, that no more than 1% of the world's population (and certainly that part of the population whose language includes the skin the cat phrase) has ever had the occasion to skin a cat, witness the skinning of a cat, or even benefit from the skinning of a cat-- whichever of the I guess myriad ways there are to skin a cat. So why, why does this phrase still exist? If there truly is more than one way to skin a cat, you'd think there would be more than one folksy phrase to express the fact that there is more than one way to do something. This language never ceases to float my boat, fill my Twinkie, and shake my martini.

Husker Du-How To Skin A Cat

Friday, January 8, 2010

Happy Birthday, Elvis

If Elvis

If Elvis had given me a Cadillac,
I'd have waxed it every day and only driven it to church, once a month.

If Elvis were still alive,
He'd have had double hip replacement surgery years ago.

If Elvis's twin brother Jesse Garon had lived,
The world would have had to grow an annex to accommodate both of them.

If Elvis had had better metabolism,
That Vegasy white jumpsuit wouldn't be so iconic.

If Elvis had been black,
They would have jailed him or worse long before they would have drafted him.

If Elvis had wanted to,
He could have unseated Nixon in '72 in a landslide.

If Elvis had gone bald at the age of 23,
He wouldn't have had to have that humiliating haircut.

If Elvis had been allowed to tour the world,
He would have sparked cultural revolutions hither and yon no mullah could contain.

If Elvis had lived long enough to have been ripped off by Bernie Madoff,
Lamar Fike would have killed the guy.

If Elvis had lived long enough,
His version of Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah” would be more revered than Jeff Buckley's.

If Elvis had been an alien,
Would anybody have noticed?

If Elvis had lived,
He'd have made a comeback movie in 1988, a romantic comedy written by Nora Ephron and co-starring Meryl Streep, which would have been a critical and commercial success and earned him an Oscar nomination; or, he would have waited to be coaxed out of retirement in 1999 by Quentin Tarrantino and made a foul-mouthed action-comedy that would have made him cool again to a whole new generation of the world's youth.

If Elvis had lived,
Jeff Lynne wouldn't have been a Traveling Wilbury.

If Elvis were still alive,
His ringtone would be Dean Martin's “Everybody Loves Somebody.”

If Elvis had lived,
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would be in Memphis, as it should.

If Elvis had killed the Colonel,
Would any jury anywhere have convicted him?

If not Elvis,
How much less fun?

Bill Parsons (Bobby Bare)-All American Boy

Dean Martin-Everybody Loves Somebody

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy Elvis Eve

Yes, tomorrow's the big day--Elvis Presley's 75th birthday! And wasn't he such a cute little boy?

Some of my favorite Elvis arcana from Peter Guralnick's great two volume bio, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love: In 1957, when Elvis was first making movies in Hollywood, he invited legendary Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips to visit him. Phillips had been the first one to play Elvis on the radio. In Hollywood, Elvis took Dewey around the soundstages and introduced him to Yul Brynner. Dewey said to Yul, "You're a short little mother, aren't you?"

In the mid-60s (while "the Jester" was "stealing his thorny crown"), Elvis was fond of saying, "My mouth feels like Bob Dylan's been sleeping in it." Though listen below to how Elvis concludes his impromtu version of Bob's "I Shall Be Released," by saying, "Dylan," with what I hear as respect and maybe even some awe or jealousy.

While Elvis was preparing his famous "comeback" TV special in 1968, the producer, Steve Binder stood with him outside the studio on Sunset strip. Supposedly none of the passersby took any notice of Elvis. Maybe that was when he decided to don the leather suit.

More Elvis tomorrow.

Elvis Presley-I Shall Be Released (informal recording)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Greatest Meal Ever

You know, creative genius is not a constant. Unlike the sun in wintry Cleveland--which not just goes, it went--and snow in wintry Cleveland--which comes and comes and comes--it comes and goes. In addition to Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, and "Love and Theft," Bob Dylan also produced Knocked Out Loaded and Down in the Groove; how could the Beatles have possibly followed up their masterpiece Revolver with anything but the let down clunker of Sgt. Pepper's?; DaVinci's Mona Lisa, of course, but have you ever seen the Monas Liza, Lizzie, and Lester--unfit for any Renaissance refrigerator, trust me. Likewise, God. Anyone bold or wacky enough to stand up for cauliflower, beets, or chopped liver? Didn't think so. But spaghetti, ah, that's where the Supreme Being hit His/Her/Its stride.

Why do I love spaghetti so much? After all the various reasons are considered--it tastes great, is easy and cheap to make, it's practically un-mess-uppable, to eat it you have to "play with your food"--for me it comes down to the mother of all reasons: genetics. In my case, quite literaly, my mother.

A few years ago I realized, like a bolt of enlightenment, that I was a mere fetus, a tiny evolving bambino, in October 1962. My God, I thought, I had just begun my life's journey, was at my most impressionable and vulnerable, during the vaunted Cuban Missile Crisis, the moment in history when mankind came closest to extinction since that little rainy day period back in Noah's time. No wonder, I thought, no wonder my psychic equilibrium is always so fraught with intimations of abnormality: I was gestating when the entire world was freaking out! Of course some of that's bound to get in the system at the most basic level--pregnant mom to baby-to-be. So I asked her, "Mom, what was it like during the Cuban Missile Crisis? Were you all raving, panic-stricken beings struggling to cope with your imminent demise? Is that why paper cuts scare the crap out of me, every passing cloud makes me queasy, and I've had recurring nightmares of Fidel Castro pointing a finger at me since I was a wee lad?"

She replied that she didn't remember much: she bought some shoes she didn't really need because she felt, well, what the hell, maybe it's the end of the world, and she ate a lot of pasta throughout her pregnancy. That's my mom, all right: down to Earth, a wry sense of humor, and the greatest gift-giver in the world--life and a life-long love of pasta, specifically spaghetti (and believe me, I'd easily sell any pair of shoes I've ever owned for a steaming bowl of spaghetti and meatballs; the shoe thing didn't make it through the umbilical cord, I guess).

I have no problem looking at a little kernel and believing it can become popcorn, or seeing a cow and instantly grabbing for ketchup for my burger, but I'm still dumbfounded that a brittle little pale stick of absolutely nearly nothing can be transformed by boiling water into the true manna from Heaven. Genius. You can't eat a Picasso, but you sure can eat the work of art known as spaghetti.

Now I'll admit there are times when, presented with a bowl of spaghetti, I regress (curling up next to the bowl in the fetal position and slurping the luscious strands sans spoon, fork, and hands), but usually only when alone, and less and less the less limber I get (though the kind and ultimately understanding wait staff at Fredo's Ristorante may beg to disagree). And before I became such an experienced gourmand, I admit I often would find myself in French, Mexican, Japanese restaurants chastising the folks there for not offering spaghetti and meatballs on their menus. But these misbehaviors only serve to illustrate my undying love of spaghetti. Cheeseburgers, bacon, covered in chocolate!, bagels, Tootsie Rolls--all wonderful, but nothing in comparison to spaghetti and meatballs, for me the ultimate combination of nature and nurture.

James Carr-Love Attack

...and speaking lately of twipping points and spaghetti:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Twipping Point

No, this post is not about a guy with a lisp dropping acid, though that would be infinitely more exciting and informative than hearing yet another TV or radio news report about how some agency or other such entity is now using Twitter. Two weeks ago it was a story about the Mall of America using Twitter to inform drivers about available parking spaces; today I heard that the Ohio Department of Transportation is using it to update road condition reports. Wonderful, I say. If you're unlucky enough to be driving in Ohio in January, or damned so thoroughly that you have to find a parking space at the Mall of America, then you deserve all the psychic and electronic help you can get. But why the hell do I have to be told about it again and again from my news sources? Good God, we've got underwear bombers, NBA players bringing guns into the locker room, Rush Limbaugh being released from the hospital--bad news all over for news junkies like myself to sink our teeth into--and every day I hear about someone else using Twitter? My old journalism professor is probably spewing red ink in his grave right now (the grave I probably helped to send him to with my feeble attempts at writing cogent, succinct leads [what, prof? no parentheses allowed in leads?]).

I have nothing against Twitter myself, probably because I've never used it (though--full disclosure--I did sign up once because a friend invited me to, but then he never tweeted, twatted, twutted, so I stopped logging on, if indeed that is what one does to Twitter, log on [do you think, years before computers, the phrase "log on" was used by lumber town hookers to describe what they did last night: "Oh honey, it was pay day for the lumberjacks. I logged on all night long"?]). But I think seeing that this is 2010, the year after Twitter became so ubiquitous (if you refrain from partaking in something that is ubiquitous, are you ubiquitting?), it is high time to stop making its use "news." I realize that new technologies can change our world drastically, but eventually, like now for Twitter, they become rather dog bites man like the rest. Frankly, I can't believe people once lived un-psychotically in a world without readily available ice cubes, and while there once was a time when "Jay's Mini-Mart now carries ice cubes!" was undoubtedly big news, that time has now passed. So too with reports about who is now using Twitter. I don't want to hear another word about it until they come out with a device that will alert new mothers and fathers that their babies need a diaper change. Twetter, obviously. Good night--it's time for me to listen to some 8-tracks and play some pong.

The Replacements-Shutup

Monday, January 4, 2010

Just A Few Questions...

Have you seen this video yet? Watch it, then take the quiz that follows.

  1. Video makes everyone look fatter, right?
  2. Why does no one go to "help Rob" when the woman asks someone to?
  3. Obviously, with the camera in ideal position, this was no spontaneous jump. If I were really creative, I should be able to reconstruct the five minutes leading up to this footage, don't you think?
  4. Correlation between this guy's actions and the fact that every sentence he utters has the effing word within the first four words or so?
  5. Anybody other than me start thinking about Herman Melville during the course of this video?
  6. Does an ice cold bath help relieve irritable thigh chafing?
  7. Am I just hyper or do this guy's friends seem a little laid back throughout the whole incident?
  8. Is the Overeater's Anonymous organization, after seeing this video, reconsidering its usual ice-breaker activities?
  9. Am I correct in saying, thank god these people aren't nudists?
  10. At the very end, does the guy who says, "Dale, you're awesome!" need to be thrown in that lake and never thrown a rope?
Vanilla Ice-Ice Ice Baby